Worker injured in Sri Lanka police crackdown dies

Associated Press
Sri Lankan private sector employees shout slogans during a protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, June 1, 2011. The workers protested against the government's proposed pension scheme for private sector workers saying it is not beneficial to them and demanded government to withdraw the proposal. (AP Photo/ Eranga Jayawardena)

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka's police chief will resign to take responsibility for a violent crackdown on a workers' protest, the government said Wednesday, hours before a wounded worker died in a hospital.

Trade unionist Wasantha Samarasinghe said a 21-year-old worker who was shot by police at Monday's protest died Wednesday evening. About 200 workers and police were injured in the clash.

"The government should take responsibility for the death of this young man," Samarasinghe said.

Earlier, the defense ministry said in a statement police chief Mahinda Balasuriya would step down over "displeasure with the manner in which police conducted themselves during the clash."

The government is under heavy criticism after police fired live bullets to stop what they said was an unruly protest by workers in the country's main free-trade zone. Some protesters who suffered bullet wounds were reported to be in serious condition.

Workers demonstrated in the capital again Wednesday to condemn the police crackdown and demand cancellation of a pension proposal for private-sector workers. Traffic was blocked in a key business district as more than 1,000 protesters shouted slogans and carried placards reading "Condemn attack on workers."

Trade unions and other critics say the pension proposal would benefit workers less than the government claims it would. The government suspended the plan temporarily amid the rising protests, but opponents want it abandoned.

Saman Rathnapriya, a trade unionist, said the authorities should take responsibility for attacking workers and urged the government to safeguard their rights and pay compensation to those injured.

"We urge the authorities to take action against those who ordered the attack on workers," he said.

The government has appointed a retired Supreme Court judge to investigate the crackdown and submit a report within five days.

The free-trade zone has many foreign-run garment factories that are the island's leading foreign exchange earner. The violence could set back government efforts to attract investment as the country recovers from a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009.

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